Full disclosure: I’m afraid of the ocean. Quite a lot. Not sharks necessarily (giant squids-imagine one of THOSE coming at you) but more the ocean as a concept. A vast, unknowable emptiness that feels like it wants you dead. Safe to say then, that when it comes to underwater-based survival horror films I’m not exactly a connoisseur. 47 Meters Down is trying to muscle in on this particular racket and approaches it by throwing a dart at a bunch of nightmare scenarios, building a plot around them.
Our story begins with sisters Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) who’re on holiday in Mexico when some handsome strangers talk them into going cage-diving on their totally legitimate and health-and-safety-approved tugboat. However, sod’s law swiftly strikes and the sisters find themselves trapped in a cage at the bottom of the ocean surrounded by hungry sharks, running out of both options and oxygen.
It’s definitely tense, although this may have been emphasised due to my aforementioned fear of the ocean. There were plenty of moments where the camera just lingers on empty space (which to me is scarier than the Great Whites themselves) but the sharks are the main villainous attraction. They’re responsible for many of the obligatory jump scares, and always seem to appear out of thin air (or water, I suppose) to gnash their teeth. The whole situation makes my skin crawl just thinking about it, being in open water completely undefended.
Performances are a mixed bag. Mandy Moore forms the backbone of the sister’s partnership as Lisa, at least once they get under the water, and everyone else is barely worth mentioning. Matthew Modine makes an appearance as the captain, but exists in a mostly vocal capacity, speaking to the sisters via radio. Pretty much every other character fills one of either two roles; warning the sisters about sharks, or being eaten by sharks. There are a couple of unique scares which use this premise, but they’re few and far between. Without wishing to spoil, the ending attempts to do something interesting with the premise that I think works quite well, but I’d understand someone who doesn’t see where the filmmakers were coming from.
47 Meters Down only really comes to life when you get below the water, but even then the true potential is lost amongst one-note acting and a threat that never really evolves in any way.